(Earle Tones)


Although best known as a trumpet player, Mark Isham is actually an immensely gifted multi-instrumentalist—a virtual study in contrasts depending on what the musical situation requires. I’d heard of Isham back in the late ‘70s when he’d joined the Rubisa Patrol album with Art Lande. Next thing you know it’s 1980 and Isham had just released the groundbreaking first Group 87 album, an Lp that paved the way for both a new brand of cinematic American rock fusion sound as well as starting a number of new careers for all the members. You can read my interview with Mark Isham from 2000 where he discusses the Group 87 album in depth. And you can also read my liner notes printed with the first ever CD reissue of Group 87 released by One Way Records back in 2000. Now nearly 30 years after the original release of Group 87, Isham picks up his trumpet and returns to his jazzy roots sound with his 2009 CD, Bittersweet—an album that sizzles with a smokey, late night jazz club sound and vibe. Recording with singer Kate Ceberano and jazz legends Alan Pasqua (keyboards), Pete Erskine (drums) and Tom Warrington (acoustic bass), Isham’s horn revisits the golden age of jazz with timeless updates of song classics form the pen of Hoagy Carmichael, Duke Ellington, Cole Porter, George Gershwin and Billy Strayhorn—in other words pure jazz classics. Even though she’s being billed as part of the duet album with Isham, the vocals of Ms. Ceberano has a great effect on all these players here, who each really rise to the occasion. Mastered by Bernie Grundman, the CD release on Isham’s Earle Tones imprint presents a state of the art look back at the classic jazz sound of yesteryears. So, you might be thinking, will Mark Isham ever get back to making the kind of music he made his breakthru with on the 1980 Group 87 album? Well part of the answer to that is a resounding yes, especially after giving a good listen to Isham’s 2009 soundtrack to the Crash movie released by Lions Gate Records. This is the kind of experimental neo-rock based album in the guise of a soundtrack that Isham does best. Although missing Group 87 genius guitarist Peter Maunu and New Age keyboardist / bassist Patrick O’Hearn, (not to mention the great G-87 engineer Ed E. Thacker or the budget of Columbia Records producer Bobby Colomby), Crash nevertheless features a fine pairing of Isham and his co-composer on this CD, Cindy O’Connor. Compared to the jazzy vocal vibe of Bittersweet, the Crash CD is a great instrumental electronica album that sounds more like Vangelis or William Orbit than say, Herb Alpert? Anyone who dug the two Group 87 albums should take a listen to Isham’s Crash soundtrack. Though sadly not as well recorded as the trendsetting Group 87 album, (not too many albums comes close) Crash is pretty darn good and is nevertheless a modern masterpiece of instrumental electronic soundtrack music that adds to Isham’s reputation as being among the great soundtrack composers of the past fifty years. /


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